For the Kandy adventure, we hired a van and driver to drive us. Monday was a Poya Day (a Buddhist celebration of the full moon that is also somehow connected to bringing rain), so many Sri Lankans were traveling for the long weekend and trains were completely full! The driver turned out to be a great option because we visited Sigriya, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Botanical Gardens, as well as many sites within our Kandy destination.
On the way to Kandy, we stopped at an elephant orphanage. Annelise and I opted to not go in because it was expensive and we had read about the questionable motives and treatment of the elephants in the care of this “orphanage”. After the others had gotten their fill of elephants we drove on to a spice garden and learned a little bit about the various spices grown in Sri Lanka and used in ayurvedic medicine. The best part was trying out the samples! First we tried some spicy tea and next thing I know, my shirt is off and an old woman is giving me a back and neck massage with some medicinal oil. Everyone was having a blast. We arrived on Friday night in Kandy after a leisurely ride into the central mountains of Sri Lanka. Just for your information, people drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car. The typical road laws about passing and speed are non-existent in this country so we did a lot of weaving in and out of traffic. It is about 116 km to Kandy from Colombo and we probably averaged around 35 km/hr so it takes between 3-4 hours. While there are no laws for speed, the average is not fast at all because all highways are one lane in each direction and dump trucks go slow uphill. We arrived at the Old Empire Hotel, which was close in proximity to the main drag and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. The room was simple and cheap and shared bathrooms were available. That night we watched a show of traditional Kandyan dancers. It was a tourist thing but it was good to know what some of the traditions might have been like a long time ago.
On Saturday we went outside Kandy to the largest botanical gardens in Sri Lanka. At 60 hectacres, the gardens were once reserved for royalty but now it is a nice, clean park open to the public. It was nice to observed Sri Lankans in a relaxing environment. Families were at picnics and little kids were playing tag. Couples were canoodling in the park, the only place that they can, as we walked the edges. Behind every large tree there are at least two couples spending “quality time” together. Haha! One interesting thing about the gardens was the number of gigantic bats in the trees. Thousands of bats were sleeping and awoke during brief rain shower. In fear of poop, we walked under the umbrella as cat-size bats flew in the treetops. After returning from the gardens, we walked around the streets of Kandy just to see the town’s stores.
On Sunday we went to Sigriya. Sigriya is a large volcanic rock, perhaps remnants of a large volcanic magma chamber of an old volcano. The rock, and entire region surrounding, was originally thought to be a fortress but modern archeology has revealed it to be a monastery for Buddhist monks. We climbed to the top of the rock which as quite a feat. The ancient stairs were stable and safe but the modern rebar construction was sketchy at best. Hundreds of people were on poorly constructed steel stairs leading up the side of the rock, looking at the rust beginning to degrade the steel connections to the rock. From our experience in the Inca Ruins of Macchu Picchu, the ancient carved rock steps are much safer than any form of modern construction method. At the top the view is expansive, little stupas are visible at almost every little town. After the hike we returned to Kandy and rested for the evening, grabbing some vegetable kottu at a delicious restaurant.
The next morning we woke up at 5:00am to observe the early morning worship at Temple of the Tooth (the most important Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, which houses a shrine holding one of Buddha’s teeth). Since Monday was Poya Day, we dressed in white clothing and entered the site. Security is heavy at the Temple because of a past LTTE bomb attack but it was easy for us to get through. We entered the temple, shoes off of course, and followed the line of people in the procession. We weaved up the stairs and around to the room where the Tooth was placed. The tooth is supposedly inside the room, locked inside a golden box. There were monks around it and tons of people were offering beautiful flowers, money, and little gifts. We peeked in the room and proceeded to observe the praying and meditating. We even saw some Buddhist nuns, who wear the same orange robes as the monks and shave their heads like the monks. The only way you can tell they are women is because they wear long-sleeved shirts under their robes. After an hour or so, we walked around the rest of the Temple grounds observing the massive families gathering for a day-long picnic at the Temple. By 11:00 we were sick of the rain so we left for Colombo. The drive went quicker, about 3 hours, and we arrived back at Shangri-La, just in time for some Maldivian Food and Insanity workout.